Clue: The Musical, book by Peter de Pietro, lyrics by Tom Chiodo, music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker & Vinnie Martucci. Directed by Michael C. Mensching.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Johnna Murray, Rod Ferrone, Tracy Trimm in Clue: The Musical; photo provided
"Sharp as a thimble."
What does it tell you when the book writer for a musical is also the original choreographer? (Miss Scarlett in the ballroom with the lead pipe.) What do we know about a show that only runs 29 performances off-Broadway and then lasts for more than eleven years in stock, regional, community and college productions? (Colonel Mustard in the study with the wrench.) What can we glean from discovering that audience members didnít actually do it, but decided who did what with which? (Mr. Green in the lounge with the rope.) Itís Clue: The Musical, running for three weeks at the Ghent Playhouse that brings up all these questions and answers and you have your own opportunity to guess the triple answers that have kept board-game players happy for decades. Chances are good that the show will not have the same ending again during the run of this production (see below for that simple clue).
Along the way youíll meet some darn fine actors doing their very best to instill life into cardboard and plastic. Those are the base elements of a board game: the board and the player pieces. On stage, however, it takes more than just the theory of the game and those elements you play with, to make your evening fun. This show, constructed by two wordsmiths and three tunesmiths, leaves you gasping for air by its long and over-drawn conclusion.
For one thing there is too much overly spoken exposition. Mr. Boddy, the intended victim, talks and talks and talks and talks and talks and talks and talks. It is no wonder the musicalís other characters would like to do away with him; they claim other reasons, but really it is all that chatter. Each act gives you three clues as to the identity of the murderer, the room in which Mr. Boddy died, and the weapon used to do it. There are six options for each of those things, by the way, or 208 possible solutions (donít ask me how I got to that number - Iím quoting someone else here). This means that the actor playing the talkative Mr. Boddy has to memorize all those endings and the clues leading to them. For either 29 performances (the first production) or a three weekend run (Ghent), thatís quite a feat, so letís applaud the actor in this role, Rod Ferrone, for just tackling such an ordeal.
In fact, letís pause here for some refreshments and applaud the entire company. They do make this show what it is, which is somewhat entertaining even when the show is at its most frenetic or most confusing. Tracy Trimm is just plain wonderful as Colonel Mustard. His physical and mental gyrations are hilarious and the weird plot-twists, given his characterís history, are divine. Johnna Murray takes Mrs. Peacock to glamorous heights, especially when sheís recounting her romantic history in the song "Once a Widow." Here is a merry widow with a method all her own of keeping "her love alive."
Ed Martin does well with Professor Plum. He has some strange and haunting things to do, particularly in his seduction duet in Act Two with the Detective, played neatly and acutely by Cathy Lee-Vischer. Stephanie Tanaka is sultry and amusing as Miss Scarlett whose southern accent comes and goes as easily as her virtue. Ferrone is very very good as Mr. Boddy and John Louis Mayerson does very interesting and occasionally disquieting things in the role of Mr. Green.
The alternately unsettling and alluring Mrs. White is played with witty charm by Mark Schane-Lydon in a hilarious send-up of the typical Agatha Christie character. Catherine Schane-Lydon and Joe Rose do whatever they can with the music at their two keyboards.
It is the music, as much as anything else, that doesnít do justice to the concept here. Nothing is very memorable (kudos to the cast for singing it anyway) and that seems to have taken a trio of composers to pull together. The lyrics do not sparkle with wit or even provide many clues. The book is a tangle and a mess. The show clearly tried to be too many things in order to remain fresh and feel spontaneous - just like a board game might do under the perfect conditions. And, oh yes, you get to play along in the audience. (Mrs. Peacock in the kitchen with candlestick.)
Once again it is a case of too many talents stuck in a show that crawls where it should run and dies where it should soar. Director Michael C. Mensching does what he can, but what he can do is stand back and let the people do their very own best. Perhaps if he had taken the bit in his teeth and really let the piece roar like a lion, soar like an eagle and stretch its massive arms out across the county, in other words play it as broadly as possible, it might have made a difference. But Iím not really sure, because I think it all comes back to the writing which is just not first-rate.
Mike McDermottís set is worth a peak and the costumes designed by Joanne Maurer are hilariously right for the characters. Matt Sikora has done a very good job lighting the show. All the elements are there, in place, waiting for a Clue. One thing to watch for when you go is the dead stranger who is never identified, but who later on, during the hectic intermission show, gets the best fine-feathered frisking of anybody (hint, hint, clue, clue). One might venture a guess that isnít offered: the sailor in the bedroom with the mizzen mast. (or Mrs. White in the Billiard Room with the revolver.)
Confused? Just you wait.
Clue: The Musical plays weekend at the Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, New York through October 26.